Learning how to speak another language can be a lot of fun, and knowing how to speak one is a useful, marketable skill in today’s world. But there’s another reason to learn a new language. It may sound like a cliché, but a new study indicates that learning a second language can actually change the way you see the world.
The study looked at people who spoke Japanese, people who spoke English and people who spoke both languages, and asked them to distinguish between different shades of blue.
Why blue? The Japanese language differentiates between light blue (mizuiro, or “the color of water”) and dark blue (ao) in a way that English does not.
The study found that people who only spoke Japanese made more of a distinction between light shades of blue and dark shades of blue than people who only spoke English. Bilinguals were in the middle, with the amount of difference they perceived in the different shades of blue seemingly tied to the language they used most often.
Apparently, learning how to use these words in Japanese trains you to think of light blue and dark blue as different colors, instead of seeing them as gradations of the same color.
As Dr. Panos Athanasopoulos, the designer of the study, explained to Science Daily:
“As well as learning vocabulary and grammar you’re also unconsciously learning a whole new way of seeing the world. There’s an inextricable link between language, culture and cognition. If you’re learning language in a classroom you are trying to achieve something specific, but when you’re immersed in the culture and speaking it, you’re thinking in a completely different way.”
Because of this, Dr. Athanasopoulos believes that people doing business in other countries should make an effort to learn the local language. Doing this not only helps you communicate, it helps you to get to know your potential customers and better understand how they think. He told Science Daily that
“If anyone needs to be motivated to learn a new language they should consider the international factor. The benefits you gain are not just being able to converse in their language — it also gives you a valuable insight into their culture and how they think, which gives you a distinct business advantage.”